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his assistance in writing a volume of hymns, but his was granted to him from the crown. He was induced, morbid melancholy gained ground, and in 1773 it in 1795, to remove with Mrs Unwin to Norfolk, on became a case of decided insanity. About two years a visit to some relations, and there Mrs Unwin died i were passed in this unhappy state. On his recovery, on the 17th December 1796. The unhappy poet Cowper took to gardening, rearing hares, drawing would not believe that his long tried friend was landscapes, and composing poetry. The latter was actually dead; he went to see the body, and on witfortunately the most permanent enjoyment; and its nessing the unaltered placidity of death, flung him. fruits appeared in a volume of poems published in self to the other side of the room with a passionate 1782. The sale of the work was slow; but his friends expression of feeling, and from that time he never were eager in its praise, and it received the approba- mentioned her name nor spoke of her again. He tion of Johnson and Franklin. His correspondence lingered on for more than three years, still under was resumed, and cheerfulness again became an in the same dark shadow of religious despondency and mate of his retreat at Olney. This happy change terror, but occasionally writing, and listening atten. was augmented by the presence of a third party, tively to works read to him by his friends. His Lady Austen, a widow, who came to reside in the last poem was the Castaway, a strain of touching immediate neighbourhood of Olney, and whose con- and beautiful verse, which showed no decay of his versation for a time charmed away the melancholy poetical powers : at length death came to his release spirit of Cowper. She told him the story of John on the 25th of April 1800. So sad and stranges Gilpin, and the famous horseman and his feats were an inexhaustible source of merriment.' Lady Austen also prevailed upon the poet to try his powers in blank verse, and from her suggestion sprung the noble poem of The Task. This memorable friendship was at length dissolved. The lady exacted too much of the time and attention of the poet-perhaps a shade of jealousy on the part of Mrs Unwin, with respect to the superior charms and attractions of her rival, intervened to increase the alienation—and before the Task was finished, its fair inspirer had left Olney without any intention of returning to it. In 1785 the new volume was published. Its success was instant and decided. The public were glad to hear the true voice of poetry and of nature, and in the rural descriptions and fireside scenes of the Task, they saw the features of English scenery and domestic life faithfully delineated. The Task, says Southey, 'was at once descriptive, moral, and satirical. The descriptive parts everywhere bore evidence of a thoughtful mind and a gentle spirit, as well as of an observant eye; and the moral sentiment which pervaded them gave a charm in which descriptive poetry is often found wanting. The best didactic poems, when compared with the Task, are like formal gardens in comparison with woodland scenery. As soon as he had completed his labours for the publication of his second volume, Cowper entered upon an undertaking of a still more arduous nature-a translation of Homer. He had gone through the great Grecian at Westminster school,
Cowper's Monument. and afterwards read him critically in the Temple, destiny has never before or since been that of a man and he was impressed with but a poor opinion of the of genius. With wit and huniour at will, he was translation of Pope. Setting himself to a daily task nearly all his life plunged in the darkest melancholy, of forty lines, he at length accomplished the forty | Innocent, pious, and confiding, he lived in per: thousand verses. He published by subscription, in petual dread of everlasting punishment: he could which his friends were generously active. The work only see between him and heaven a high wall which appeared in 1791, in two volumes quarto. In the he despaired of ever being able to scale; yet his ininterval the poet and Mrs Unwin had removed to tellectual vigour was not subdued by affliction. What Weston, a beautiful village about a mile from Olney. he wrote for amusement or relief in the midst of His cousin, Lady Hesketh, a woman of refined and supreme distress,' surpasses the elaborate efforts of fascinating manners, had visited him; he had also others made under the most favourable circumformed a friendly intimacy with the family of the stances; and in the very winter of his days, his Throckmortons, to whom Weston belonged, and his fancy was as fresh and blooming as in the spring circumstances were comparatively easy. His malady, and morning of existence. That he was constituhowever, returned upon him with full force, and tionally prone to melancholy and insanity, seems Mrs Unwin being rendered helpless by palsy, the undoubted; but the predisposing causes were as task of nursing her fell upon the sensitive and de- surely aggravated by his strict and secluded mode jected poet. A careful revision of his Homer, and of life. Lady Hesketh was a better guide and com. an engagement to edit a new edition of Milton, panion than John Newton; and no one can read were the last literary undertakings of Cowper. The his letters without observing that cheerfulness was former he completed, but without improving the inspired by the one, and terror by the other. The first edition : his second task was never finished. iron frame of Newton could stand unmoved amidst A deepening gloom settled on his mind, with occa- shocks that destroyed the shrinking and apprebensionally bright intervals. A visit to his friend sive mind of Cowper. All, however, have now gone Hayley, at Eartham, produced a short cessation of to their account--the stern yet kind minister, the his mental suffering, and in 1794 a pension of £300 faithful Mary Unwin, the gentle high-born relations
who forsook ease, and luxury, and society to soothe The highest flight in the whole, and the one most the misery of one wretched being, and that immortal characteristic of Cowper, is his sketch of being himself has passed away, scarce conscious that he had bequeathed an imperishable treasure to man
[The Greenland Missionaries.] kind. We have greater and loftier poets than Cowper, but none so entirely incorporated, as it
That sound bespeaks salvation on her way, were, with our daily existence--none so completely
The trumpet of a life-restoring day; a friend-our companion in woodland wanderings,
'Tis heard where England's eastern glory shines, and in moments of serious thought-ever gentle and
And in the gulfs of her Cornubian mines. affectionate, even in his transient fits of ascetic
And still it spreads. See Germany send forth gloom-a pure mirror of affections, regrets, feelings,
Her sons to pour it on the farthest north; and desires which we have all felt or would wish to
Fired with a zeal peculiar, they defy cherish. Shakspeare, Spenser, and Milton, are spirits
The rage and rigour of a polar sky, of ethereal kind : Cowper a steady and valuable
And plant successfully sweet Sharon's rose friend, whose society we may sometimes neglect for
On icy plains and in eternal snows. that of more splendid and attractive associates, but
Oh blessed within the enclosure of your rocks, whose unwavering principle and purity of character,
Nor herds have ye to boast, nor bleating flocks; joined to rich intellectual powers, overflow upon us
No fertilising streams your fields divide, in secret, and bind us to him for ever.
That show reversed the villas on their side; It is scarcely to be wondered at that Cowper's
No groves have ye; no cheerful sound of bird, first volume was coldly received. The subjects of
Or voice of turtle in your land is heard ;
Nor grateful eglantine regales the smell his poems (Table Talk, the Progress of Error, Truth, Expostulation, Hope, Charity, &c.) did not promise
Of those that walk at evening where ye dwell;
But Winter, armed with terrors here unknown, much, and his manner of handling them was not
Sits absolute on his unshaken throne, calculated to conciliate a fastidious public. He
Piles up his stores amidst the frozen waste, was both too harsh and too spiritual for general
And bids the mountains he has built stand fast; readers. Johnson had written moral poems in the
Beckons the legions of his storms away same form of verse, but they possessed a rich declama
From happier scenes to make your lands a prey ; tory grandeur and brilliancy of illustration which
Proclaims the soil a conquest he has won, Cowper did not attempt, and probably would, from
And scorns to share it with the distant sun. principle, have rejected. There are passages, how
Yet Truth is yours, remote unenvied isle ! ever, in these evangelical works of Cowper of
And Peace, the genuine offspring of her smile; masterly execution and lively fancy. His character
The pride of lettered ignorance, that binds of Chatham has rarely been surpassed, even by Pope In chains of error our accomplished minds, or Dryden —
That decks with all the splendour of the true,
A false religion, is unknown to you. A. Patriots, alas! the few that have been found
Nature indeed vouchsafes for our delight Where most they flourish, upon English ground, The sweet vicissitudes of day and night; The country's need have scantily supplied ;
Soft airs and genial moisture feed and cheer And the last left the scene when Chatham died.
Field, fruit, and flower, and every creature here; B. Not so; the virtue still adorns our age, But brighter beams than his who fires the skies Though the chief actor died upon the stage.
Have risen at length on your admiring eyes, In him Demosthenes was heard again;
That shoot into your darkest caves the day Liberty taught him her Athenian strain;
From which our nicer optics turn away. She clothed him with authority and awe, Spoke from his lips, and in his looks gave law. In this mixture of argument and piety, poetry and His speech, his form, his action full of grace, plain sense, we have the distinctive traits of Cowper's And all his country beaming in his face,
genius. The freedom acquired by composition, and He stood as some inimitable hand
especially the presence of Lady Austen, led to more Would strive to make a Paul or Tully stand. valuable results; and when he entered upon the Task, No sycophant or slave that dared oppose
he was far more disposed to look at the sunny side Her sacred cause, but trembled when he rose; of things, and to launch into general description. And every venal stickler for the yoke,
His versification underwent a similar improvement. Felt himself crushed at the first word he spoke. His former poems were often rugged in style and Neither has the fine simile with which the follow the polished uniformity of Pope and his imitators.
expression, and were made so on purpose, to avoid ing retrospect closes :
He was now sensible that he had erred on the oppoAges elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared,
site side, and accordingly the Task was made to And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard;
unite strength and freedom with elegance and harTo carry nature lengths unknown before,
mony. No poet has introduced so much idiomatic To give a Milton birth asked ages more.
expression into a grave poem of blank verse; but the Thus genius rose and set at ordered times,
higher passages are all carefully finished, and rise And shot a day-spring into distant climes,
or fall, according to the nature of the subject, with Ennobling every region that he chose.
inimitable grace and melody. In this respect CowHe sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose;
per, as already mentioned, has greatly the advantage And, tedious years of Gothic darkness past, of Thomson, whose stately march is never relaxed, Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.
however trivial be the theme. The variety of the Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
Task in style and manner, no less than in subject, Then show far off their shining plumes again.
is one of its greatest charms. The mock-heroic
opening is a fine specimen of his humour, and from The poem of Conversation in this volume is rich this he slides into rural description and moral reflecin Addisonian humour and satire, and formed no tion so naturally and easily, that the reader is carried unworthy prelude to the Task. In Hope and Retire- along apparently without an effort. The scenery of ment, we see traces of the descriptive powers and the Ouse-its level plains and spacious meads—is natural pleasantry afterwards so finely developed. described with the vividness of painting, and the
poet then elevates the character of his picture by a the vale of years ;' his playful satire and tender rapid sketch of still nobler features :
admonition, his denunciation of slavery, his noble
patriotism, his devotional earnestness and sabli[Rural Sounds.]
mity, his warm sympathy with his fellow-men, and Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
his exquisite paintings of domestic peace and hap
piness, are all so much self-portraiture, drawn with Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
the ripe skill and taste of the master, yet with a The tone of languid nature. Mighty winds That sweep the skirt of some far-spreading wood
modesty that shrinks from the least obtrusiveness Of ancient growth, make music not unlike
and display. The very rapidity of his transitions, The dash of ocean on his winding shore,
where things light and sportive are drawn up with And lull the spirit while they fill the mind,
the most solemn truths, and satire, pathos, and reUnnumbered branches waving in the blast,
proof alternately mingle or repel each other, are And all their leaves fast fluttering all at once.
characteristic of his mind and temperament in ordiNor less composure waits upon the roar
nary life. His inimitable ease and colloquial freeOf distant floods, or on the softer voice
dom, which lends such a charm to his letters, is Of neighbouring fountain, or of rills that slip never long absent from his poetry; and his peculiar Through the cleft rock, and chiming as they fall
tastes, as seen in that somewhat grandiloquent line, Upon loose pebbles, lose themselves at length
Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too,
are all pictured in the pure and lucid pages of the Nature inanimate displays sweet sounds,
Task. It cannot be said that Cowper ever abanBut animated nature sweeter still,
doned bis sectarian religious tenets, yet they are To soothe and satisfy the human ear.
little seen in his great work. His piety is that Ten thousand warblers cheer the day, and one which all should feel and venerate; and if his sad The livelong night ; nor these alone whose notes
experience of the world had tinged the prospect of Nice-fingered art must emulate in vain,
life, its fluctuations and its vast concerns,' with a But cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime
deeper shade than seems consonant with the general In still-repeated circles, screaming loud,
welfare and happiness, it also imparted a higher The jay, the pie, and even the boding owl
authority and more impressive wisdom to his earnest That hails the rising moon, have charms for me. and solemn appeals. He was 'a stricken deer that Sounds in harmonious in themselves and harsh, left the herd,' conscious of the follies and wants of Yet heard in scenes where peace for ever reigns, those he left behind, and inspired with power to And only there, please highly for their sake.
minister to the delight and instruction of the whole The freedom of this versification, and the admirable human race. variety of pause and cadence, must strike the most uncritical reader. With the same playful strength
[From' Conversation.'] and equal power of landscape painting, he describes
The emphatic speaker dearly loves to oppose, [The Diversi ficd Character of Creation.] In contact inconvenient, nose to nose, The earth was made so various, that the mind
As if the gnomon on his neighbour's phiz, Of desultory man, studious of change
Touched with a magnet, had attracted his.
His whispered theme, dilated and at large,
Proves after all a wind-gun's airy charge-
An extract of his diary--no more-
A tasteless journal of the day before.
He walked abroad, o'ertaken in the rain,
Called op a friend, drank tea, stept home again;
Resumed his purpose, had a world of talk Delight us, happy to renounce a while,
With one he stumbled on, and lost his walk; Not senseless of its charms, what still we love,
I interrupt him with a sudden bow, That such short absence may endear it more.
Adieu, dear sir, lest you should lose it now. Then forests, or the savage rock may please
A graver coxcomb we may sometimes see, That hides the sea-mew in his hollow clefts
Quite as absurd, though not so light as he: Above the reach of man; his hoary head
A shallow brain behind a serious mask, Conspicuous inany a league, the mariner
An oracle within an empty cask, Bound homeward, and in hope already there,
The solemn fop, significant and budge; Greets with three cheers exulting. At his waist
A fool with judges, amongst fools a judge; A girdle of half-withered shrubs he shows,
He says but little, and that little said, And at his feet the baffled billows die.
Owes all its weight, like loaded dice, to lead. The common overgrown with fern, and rough
His wit invites you by his looks to come, With prickly goss, that, shapeless and deform,
But when you knock, it never is at home : And dangerous to the touch, has yet its bloom,
'Tis like a parcel sent you by the stage, And decks itself with ornaments of gold,
Some handsome present, as your hopes presage; Yields no unpleasing ramble ; there the turf
'Tis hcary, bulky, and bids fair to prove Smells fresh, and rich in odoriferous herbs
An absent friend's fidelity of love; And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense
But when unpacked, your disappointment groans With luxury of unexpected sweets.
To find it stuffed with brickbats, earth, and stones,
Some men employ their health-an ugly trickFrom the beginning to the end of the Task we in making known how oft they have been sick, never lose sight of the author. His love of country And give us in recitals of disease rambles, when a boy,
A doctor's trouble, but without the fees; O’er hills, through valleys, and by river's brink;
Relate how many weeks they kept their bed,
How an emetic or cathartic sped; his walks with Mrs Unwin, when he had exchanged | Nothing is slightly touched, much less forgot; the Thames for the Ouse, and had 'grown sober in | Nose, ears, and eyes seem present on the spot.
Now the distemper, spite of draught or pill,
May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore, Victorious seemed, and now the doctor's skill; The parting sound shall pass my lips no more! And nowmalas! for unforeseen mishaps !
Thy maidens grieved themselves at my concern, They put on a damp nightcap, and relapse ;
Oft gave me promise of a quick return:
And, disappointed still, was still deceived;
Dupe of to-inorrow even from a child.
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went, Your elevated voice goes through the brain;
Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,
I learned at last submission to my lot,
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more, You rise and drop the curtain-now 'tis night.
Children not thine have trod my nursery floor;
Drew me to school along the public way,
Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapt
'Tis now become a history little known, And in due time feeds heartily on both;
That once we called the pastoral house our own. Yet still o'erclouded with a constant frown,
Short-lived possession! but the record fair, He does not swallow, but he gulps it down.
That memory keeps of all thy kindness there, Your hope to please him vain on every plan, Still outlives many a storm, that has effaced Himself should work that wonder, if he can.
A thousand other themes less deeply traced. Alas! his efforts double his distress.
Thy nightly visits to my chamber made, He likes yours little and his own still less ;
That thou might'st know me safe and warmly laid ; Thus always teasing others, always teased,
Thy morning bounties ere I left my home, His only pleasure is to be displeased.
The biscuit or confectionary plum; I pity bashful men, who feel the pain
The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestowed Of fancied scorn and undeserved disdain,
By thy own hand, till fresh they shone and glowed: And bear the marks upon a blushing face
All this, and more endearing still than all, Of needless shame and self-imposed disgrace. Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall, Our sensibilities are so acute,
Ne'er roughened by those cataracts and breaks, The fear of being silent makes us mute.
That humour interposed too often makes ; We sometimes think we could a speech produce
All this, still legible in memory's page, Much to the purpose, if our tongues were loose ;
And still to be so to my latest age, But being tried, it dies upon the lip,
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay Faint as a chicken's note that has the pip;
Such honours to thee as my numbers may; Our wasted oil un profitably burns,
Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere, Like hidden lamps in old sepulchral urns.
Not scorned in heaven, though little noticed here.
Could Time, his flight reversed, restore the hour, On the Receipt of his Mother's Picture.
When, playing with thy vesture's tissued flowers,
The violet, the pink, and jessamine, Oh that those lips had language ! Life has passed I pricked them into paper with a pin, With me but roughly since I heard thee last. (And thou wast happier than myself the while, Those lips are thinethy own sweet smiles I see, Would softly speak, and stroke my head and smile), The same that oft in childhood solaced me;
Could those few pleasant hours again appear, Voice only fails, else, how distinct they say,
Might one wish bring them, would I wish them here? Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away! I would not trust my heart—the dear delight The meek intelligence of those dear eyes
Seems so to be desired, perhaps I in ght. (Blest be the art that can immortalise,
But no—what here we call our life is such,
So little to be loved, and thou so much,
Thy unbound spirit into bonds again.
Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast Who bidd'st me honour, with an artless song (The storms all weathered and the ocean crossed), Affectionate, a mother lost so long.
Shoots into port at some well-harened isle, I will obey, not willingly alone,
Where spices breathe and brighter seasons smile, But gladly, as the precept were her own:
There sits quiescent on the floods, that show And while that face renews my filial grief,
Her beauteous form reflected clear below, Fancy shall weave a charm for my relief;
While airs impregnated with incense play Shall steep me in Elysian reverie,
Around her, fanning light her streamers gay; A momentary dream, that thou art she.
So thou, with sails how swift! hast reached the shore My mother! when I learned that thou wast dead, •Where tempests never beat nor billows roar;' Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
And thy loved consort on the dangerous tide Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
Of life, long since, has anchored at thy side. Wretch even then, life's journey just begun!
But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest, Perhaps thou gavest me, though unseen, a kiss ; Always from port withheld, always distressedPerhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss
Me howling winds drive devious, tempest-tossed, Ah, that maternal smile! it answers—Yes.
Sails ript, seams opening wide, and compass lost; I heard the bell tolled on thy burial day,
And day by day some current's thwarting force I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
Sets me more distant from a prosperous course. And, turning from my nursery window, drew
But oh the thought, that thou art safe, and he! A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu !
That thought is joy, arrive what may to me. But was it such! It was. Where thou art gone, My boast is not that I deduce my birth Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
But higher far my proud pretensions rise-
Partakers of thy sad decline,
My Mary! And still to love, though pressed with ill, In wintry age to feel no chill, With me is to be lovely still,
My Mary! But ah! by constant heed I know, How oft the sadness that I show, Transforms thy smiles to looks of Fo,
My Mary! And should my future lot be cast With much resemblance of the past, Thy worn-out heart will break at last,
[Voltaire and the Lace-worker.] Yon cottager, who wcaves at her own door, Pillow and bobbins all her little store; Content though mean, and cheerful if not gay, Shuffling her threads about the live-long day, Just earns a scanty pittance, and at night Lies down secure, her heart and pocket light; She, for her humble sphere by nature fit, Has little understanding, and no wit; Receives no praise ; but though her lot be such (Toilsome and indigent), she renders much; Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible trueA truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew; And in that charter reads, with sparkling eyes, Her title to a treasure in the skies. O happy peasant! O unhappy bard ! His the mere tinsel, hers the rich reward; He praised, perhaps, for ages yet to come, She never heard of half a mile from home; He lost in errors his vain heart prefers, She safe in the simplicity of hers.
* To Mary (Mrs Unwin).
My Mary! Thy needles, once a shining store, For my sake restless heretofore, Now rust disused, and shine no more,
My Mary! For though thou gladly wouldst fulfil The same kind office for me still, Thy sight now seconds not thy will,
My Mary! But well thou play'dst the housewife's part, And all thy threads, with magic art, Have wound themselves about this heart,
My Mary! Thy indistinct expressions seem Like language uttered in a dream; Yet me they charm, whate'er the theme,
My Mary! Thy silver locks, once auburn bright, Are still more lovely in my sight Than golden beams of orient light,
My Mary! For, could I view nor them nor thee, What sight worth seeing could I see? The sun would rise in vain for me,
[Winter Evening in the Country.]
[From The Task.]
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,